Address to convocation
Dr. John Murphy
Honourable Chancellor, Mr. President, distinguished guests, family, friends and you the graduates.
Boswell recorded that Johnson said “A desire for knowledge is the natural feeling of mankind.” To which we might add … and should continue all our lives.
Congratulations! What a happy day for you and what a happy day for me!
You can be most grateful to your university teachers and to the many dedicated people who built this great institution.
How fortunate you are. When I was growing up, we had few roads, the longest being 70 miles to Placentia. We certainly didn’t have a degree conferring institution. If you had the money, and few did, you could study in England, Canada or the US. We did have a junior College on Parade St. where you could study only the first two years of a BA or B.Sc. I took a so called business course there. Newfoundland was governed from England at the time and the program I was doing was in pounds, shillings and pence; totally incomprehensible to me as was the double entry bookkeeping. My Memorial days were numbered you might say.
Premier Joe Smallwood went up to Signal Hill, looked out from Cabot Tower at all the vacant land around Long Pond and said “That’s where I will build a great new university, a Confederation Building and a great new General Hospital.” But the land was privately owned and it took 14 frustrating years of negotiations before actual construction began.
In 1961, 45 years ago, this campus was finally opened with just four buildings and 1,400 students.
To lend a tone to the opening ceremonies the government invited Eleanor Roosevelt, widow of the president of the United States, to officiate. I was quite surprised when she described how much her husband, Franklin, loved to come here salmon fishing. The sweet old lady was somewhat dotty and thought she was in St. John, New Brunswick. Incidentally she charged a fee of $5000.
A few years after that Lord Taylor of Harlow, who had rebuilt that English city after the war, was appointed President and Vice Chancellor? Lord Thompson, the richest man in Canada at the time became chancellor, followed by Paul Desmarais, the second richest man in Canada now we have The Hon. John Crosbie, the richest wit in Canada.
Lord Taylor was truly a remarkable man a medical doctor, a town planner, an engineer and a teacher. At the time I was fortunate enough to be on the Board of Regents. I served six exciting years and enjoyed my association with Lord Taylor and the many world famous people he brought here.
He told me he had a phone call one Friday afternoon from Premier Smallwood. Mr. Smallwood said, “Lord Taylor, I want you for prepare for me a full plan for the development of Memorial University for the next 10 years.” And as an afterthought he added, “Take as long as you like, take ‘til Monday.”
Lord Taylor was tireless in his work for Memorial.
During his eight years as President Lord Taylor presided over the creation of Harlow Campus, the new library, the divisions of summer sessions, a $5 million engineering building, chosen by World Health to research the Eastern Artic, created a division to study Newfoundland dialect, culture and folklore, the extension services, new student residences, one of which, Burke House I became the patron of.
In, 1968 while I was Regent, a large group of students held a protest march on the American Consul’s residence, then on King’s Bridge Rd. The students brought bags of garbage which they dumped on the lawn there, in protest of the Vietnam War. Mose Morgan, I and other Regents went down to check the scene, little did I know that somewhere in the crowd of students, yelling “peace not war” was my future wife Sheilagh.
Many years ago a good friend of mine, a successful business man told me his one regret was that he had been afraid to offer himself for elected office.
At that time my business was doing well, so, in 1973, I offered myself for public office. I had been concerned that so much of our old historic city was being torn down and so many people moving away from the city core. I ran for city council and to my surprise was elected deputy mayor.
There were no computers then and many invoices were hand written. While Councillor at the time, Miller Ayre, now the publisher of the Telegram, modernized the administration; I took on Ottawa and was successful in getting financial sharing for neighbourhood improvement programs, grants to upgrade older homes, new infill housing and sewer rebuilding: all of which helped save many of the older parts of the city.
The suburbs of St. John’s had been allowed to spring up with little planning and inadequate services. Over the following 20 years, while I served the city, the towns of Wedgewood Park, the Goulds, Kilbride, Shea Heights, East Meadows and Airport Heights were all annexed to St. John’s, enlarging the city from 25 square miles to over 200 square miles and we built the roads to accommodate the growth.
All that time Memorial was expanding. I watched our university grow from 300 students in that old building on Parade St. to become the largest university in Atlantic Canada and the new library, research facilities, recreational buildings the medical school, the music school and others have all added an enormous value to this city.
As President Axel Meisen outlined for us in his recent comprehensive address to the St. John’s Rotary Club, the financial contribution of the university to the city is enormous. Memorial is also the city’s biggest business with over 17,000 students, hundreds of teachers and support staff.
I am thrilled to see the funding we receive for research in many disciplines, including pioneer work in Parkinson’s disease, so much in the news recently with the death of the Pope.
While based in St. John’s we recognize the tremendous influence of Memorial in Corner Brook and indeed throughout all Newfoundland and Labrador, delivering education to the far flung regions of an isolated and rugged land, using computers, television, teleconferencing and telemedicine.
I was on council for many years and Mayor for 14 years. I was always pleased to acknowledge the practical symbiosis that has existed between town and gown. Did you know that the beautiful chandeliers in Gushue Hall were a gift from the city and that the hand carved bookcases in the mayor’s office a gift from Memorial.
I have spoken about my time in elected office. In honouring me today, I feel you are also recognizing all the men and women, many Memorial graduates who have and continue to serve their communities in elected offices.
Today you graduate, leaving one group, the student body and entering another, the alumni. Take your natural feeling for knowledge with you. Continue to use the remarkable facilities of this great university and this wonderful city.
How much you can learn and enjoy at our School of Music, the GEO Centre, The Rooms to mention a few.
Our artists and writers have made life in the rest of Canada sparkle just a little bit more.
I am proud to accept this degree; proud to be counted with the other distinguished degree recipients whom I congratulate.